The Central cracks open a crystal of strange, heavy sounds

Abrasion and melody combine on the Madison duo’s new album, “Van Dyke Browne’s Crystal.”

Abrasion and melody combine on the Madison duo’s new album, “Van Dyke Browne’s Crystal.”

The Central is the most delightfully confounding band in Madison. The duo of guitarist/vocalist Frankie Furillo and drummer Alex Roberts has often spiraled between the abrupt, savagely heavy bursts of grindcore and harmonically complex moments that draw on elements of jazz, soul, and pop music. It’s always been a little weird, and a little funny, to call The Central a grindcore band per se: Roberts and Furillo have only rarely shown an interest in the 30-second micro-punishment song forms most associate with that genre, and instead use its frenzied extremes as a jumping-off point for whatever else they might want to explore. And especially on last year’s Sick And Dying, the band has occasionally abandoned its metallic side altogether. 

It all sounds ambitious on paper, yet the duo’s execution has always been refreshingly lean, free of pretension or machismo and laced with an impish sense of humor. 

“Our songs are too long for powerviolence, not metal enough for metal, not punk enough for punk, too angry for indie rock, and certainly not pissed-off enough to be hardcore,” Furillo says. “I don’t think we ever really intend to be humorous—we’re just naturally goofy and any sort of heavy band that’s too serious is very cringe to me. No reason to be all gloom and doom.”

The Central’s fifth full-length album, Van Dyke Browne’s Crystal, released on August 3, draws all the band’s varied interests back toward a heavy core. The band’s next show is on September 19 at Mickey’s Tavern, with brilliantly Minneapolis metal band Scaphe, Iowa grindcore band Closet Witch, and Madison math-rock trio Czarbles. 

Furillo and Roberts still work a lot of variety into Van Dyke Browne’s Crystal, but it’s as if they’re trying to compact everything down and reconnect with the band’s foundational strengths. On “Arob’s Corner,” streaks of bright vocal melody overlay a start-stop lurch of a rhythm. “Normal” showcases the band’s ability to work a bit of swing and flexibility into what could be very rigid-feeling rhythmic structures, and “Eight Van Convoy” plays passages of warpy, abstract percussion off of blast beats and screams.

Music like this can keep a person off balance, but Roberts and Furillo are keenly aware of the challenge of making all these improbable elements flow together. 

“I think a lot of the time we draw inspiration from our favorite mathy/rhythmically pushing groups, with intent to push our boundaries, while at the same time working to establish clear song structure,” Furillo says. “Instead of just putting a bunch of crazy parts together and calling it a song, we worked a lot on giving the songs natural flow and making them more ‘songy.'”

Roberts, for his part, was curious about working in rhythmic ideas from Hindustani music (which he says he incorporated into “Arob’s Corner”), but also on maintaining the dynamic of tension and release that’s so key to heavy music. “We definitely were trying to get a much clearer sound, in production as well as part writing,” Roberts says.

The last track on the album, “Sunrise,” serves as a reminder that things can always get weirder and more far-flung with this band. Roberts takes a restrained approach here, gradually building up from ticking side-stick patterns to a double-kick rumble, but still making even the heavier moments feel contemplative, part of a circular flow rather than precursors to an explosion. And indeed, the track never actually hits a climax. A pulse of wordless vocals ping-pongs across the mix, and Furillo branches out into a bit of squiggly atonal noise but gently lands the song on a clean, reassuring chord. 

It’s a good way to leave people wondering what will come next from The Central. Roberts and Furillo say they’re already 16 songs into writing a new album, and they’re staying open to any and all possibilities as they proceed.

“I think we’ll slowly drift between all of our favorites sounds and aesthetics while still having an aggressive and technical nature,” Roberts. “We have many interests in terms of art and science, which we try to incorporate as much as possible.”

The Central’s range of influences is always expanding, too.

“Alex and I love most kinds of music and I think we both pride ourselves in finding the things we love in music regardless of genre, artist, whatever,” Furillo says. “The last couple tours, we’ve gotten super into Michael McDonald, Gregory Porter, and Barbra Streisand, to name a few, and will more than likely incorporate stylistic elements we love from these artists into new Central.”

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